Save Griffintown!

News Update: Downsized Projet Griffintown to Proceed by ajkandy
February 18, 2009, 2:26 pm
Filed under: city council, developers, Devimco, economics, griffintown, news, press conference

Devimco’s Projet Griffintown will proceed in a greatly reduced and modified fashion, say spokespeople for the developer and the City of Montreal. According to information released at recent press events, a downsized Projet Griffintown will be built on approximately 30% of the originally planned surface area, starting in 2010, in stages.

The new project will abandon the high-profile shopping centre to focus on canalside residential and office developments, to be built on land already owned by Devimco south of Wellington Street. It’s not entirely clear, but it does appear that Devimco will release its options to purchase / expropriate land north of Wellington, which has land and property owners upset that their ability to sign new leases or develop their own properties was frozen by the city, with little to no compensation.

Linda Gyulai, reporting in The Gazette:

“The economic situation is difficult, and despite this we’re announcing we’re going ahead with our project,” Devimco spokesman André Bouthillier, said. “There aren’t many other developers announcing good news these days.”

Devimco will invest at least $300 million in the first phase of the project, beginning in 2010, he said. Meanwhile, Mayor Gérald Tremblay’s administration held a hastily organized news conference at city hall to deny the project has sunk.

“There’s no real change,” said city executive committee member Luis Miranda, who is responsible for major development projects. “The Griffintown project for us is not closed. It’s not a file we’re abandoning.”

Meanwhile, Benoit Labonté, opposition city councillor and borough mayor of Ville-Marie, blasted the Tremblay administration for its lack of long-term economic vision, and its willingness to put all its eggs in the baskets of real-estate megaprojects, in a press release:

“Alors que l’horizon économique s’assombrit, l’administration Tremblay demeure encore une fois impuissante à agir avec fermeté et audace, afin de préserver le développement de l’économie montréalaise, comme elle a été impuissante à la faire progresser au cours des sept dernières années”, a exprimé le maire Labonté. “Il est vrai que les conditions économiques actuelles rendent le développement de tels projets plus difficile. Cependant, une administration responsable, possédant un minimum de vision, aurait, depuis des mois, mis en place une stratégie de développement pouvant répondre efficacement à l’adversité et ne se serait pas uniquement fié aux grands projets immobiliers ou commerciaux”, a déclaré le chef de l’Opposition officielle.

More news and links, including some reaction from property owners:

Le Devoir: Un autre clou dans le cerceuil…
Journal de Montreal: Des propriétaires excédés
Journal de Montreal: Le mégaprojet se dégonfle
La Presse: Le projet Griffintown se fera par étapes
Radio-Canada: Griffintown: Comme un peau de chagrin

Devimco’s press release in French and English.

Fresh horses!* Griffintown hearings continue tonight, set to go all week by ajkandy

The comments-and-briefs-submitting period of the Griffintown consultation process kicks off tonight at 7pm, and with the huge number of respondents set to offer their views, I estimate that instead of wrapping it up in one or two nights, it could stretch to the end of the week or further. Now’s the time to get your word in, or simply observe the process.

The Committee for the Sustainable Redevelopment of Griffintown will be presenting second-up this evening. They’ll be submitting a brief including both a written critique of the proposal, as well as a vision statement for a more sustainable, organically developed and locally-focused community. The brief will be available on their blog after this evening, I believe.

The Committee’s also going to stage a press conference at 6:15 PM in front of the ETS, and will be bringing a calèche and horse to underline the importance of the Griffintown Horse Palace as a living legacy of the area’s Victorian industrial past. They’ll also be asking attendees to sign their petition asking for a better, more democratic process for the Griffintown project.

In other news, I was photographed, along with Chris and Judith Gobeil (and their dog, Andy) down at Saint Ann’s Park, with the Five Roses sign in the background, for the cover of the Montreal Mirror. The story’s being expanded so it’ll appear the week of the 20th.

Chris was also interviewed on CBC’s Radio Noon today, helping to explain how we are yes-for-dense-development, but no-on-oversized-shopping-centres. is also working on a more in-depth story for their online news division.

See you at the ETS tonight!

*A random, but appropriate quote from Brian Blessed as King Richard, in the first series of Blackadder.

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Reminder: Public Consultation continues tonight (in 15 minutes…go go go!) by ajkandy
February 27, 2008, 6:52 pm
Filed under: Committee for Sustainable Redevelopment, consultations, Devimco, ETS

Forgive me for not posting this earlier, but Real Life intervenes sometimes.

The question-and-answer phase of the public consultations on Griffintown continues this evening (in 15 minutes from now, actually) down at the ETS, corner of Peel and Notre-Dame. I was at the 2nd night, this time entirely devoted to continuing the questions from the public. I’ll write up a fuller report of those activities later.

People from the Committee for the Sustainable Redevelopment of Griffintown will be there this evening — it was another practically full house last night and promises to be again tonight. If you have questions for the City and for Devimco, you can sign up at the door. There will likely be another supplementary night of questions if there’s enough people signed up.

After that, individuals and organizations can present comments and briefs stating their case to the borough committee on March 10th.

Griffintown News Roundup, Feb 6th by ajkandy
February 6, 2008, 9:39 am
Filed under: blogosphere, Devimco, griffintown, media, news, op-ed

La Presse:

University of Montreal professor, architect, urbanist and historian Jean-Claude Marsan writes an opinion piece: Montreal deserves better:

Le projet de Griffintown, mis de l’avant par le Groupe Devimco qui a réalisé le centre commercial Dix30 à Brossard, repose sur un concept abstrait, une idée importée, plus précisément de la Floride et de la Californie, lieu de naissance du Life Style Center. Ce nouveau modèle de centre commercial favorise un style de vie basé sur l’utilisation de l’automobile et la consommation globalisante, regroupant dans un même lieu la plupart des marques commerciales existantes en Amérique […] il demeure essentiellement un produit de banlieue dont il conserve toutes les caractéristiques. Nous sommes bien loin des «rues principales» d’arrondissements telles que celles du Plateau-Mont-Royal, de Côte-des-Neiges, Notre-Dame-de-Grâce ou d’Outremont, de ces artères commerciales qui s’avèrent des lieux de découverte, de socialisation et de convivialité.

The Gazette:

Reporter Jason Magder summarizes last night’s borough council public meeting:
Griffintown consultations open to everyone, borough promises

City columnist Henry Aubin points out the city’s contradictory aims in trying to relieve pollution and traffic congestion, while simultaneously pushing forward redevelopment projects that will collectively add something like 10,000 parking spaces, in How to get more people to live downtown without their cars.

Spacing Montreal:

Blogger and CBC Radio reporter Misha Warbanski has a piece on the air today, and blogged two pieces, one summarizing the borough council meeting, and another mentioning the Committee for Sustainable Redevelopment open brainstorming session this evening.

Devimco-RESO public consultation: Here’s what was said by ajkandy
January 29, 2008, 2:45 pm
Filed under: consultations, Devimco, ETS, griffintown

by A.J. Kandy

Welcome readers!

Please bear in mind we’re not advocating what Devimco is coming up with, we’re merely reporting what they have stated in press releases and in public meetings. The point of this blog is to share information and get people involved in the process. While we can understand Devimco’s particular design & urban planning decisions and the density requirements of the city, that does not indicate that we endorse them.

Our own preference for the area would be intelligent re-use and sustainable, smaller-scale infill development, but as we don’t have a spare $1.3 Bn lying around, what we can do is try to influence the outcome for the better.

• • •

Upon leaving the public meeting last Wednesday (january 23rd), we were told that the Projet Griffintown website would be up “before the end of the week,” so we decided to let a couple of days pass while we prepared for our Friday presentation at the Indyish City Mess event. Stephanie got word from one of the minute-takers that all the answers from the meeting’s questions would be up at the website, but to date, nothing seems to have surfaced. So, continuing the thread started by Steph in last week’s piece, here’s a summary of the important news about the project with adapted visuals from our most recent presentation.

Project Griffintown, Residential Space Use Breakdown

The high density is driven by requests from the City and other organizations. Originally, the project was only to have 1,500 residential units, but this has been bumped up to over 3,800 units. From the city’s perspective, this attempts to increase residential density near downtown, stem suburban sprawl, and to recover lost tax revenues. From the commercial perspective, it creates a local economic basis for shops and services; from the community perspective, it creates much more space for student residences, assisted living, and affordable / subsidized housing for working families. A representative of POPIR debated at length with Mr. Goulet about whether 400 units of affordable housing represented the proper amount (15% of the total units) as required by the City; Devimco’s position is that they are following the guidelines and subtracted the student and senior housing from the total; POPIR seems to think they should have included them. On the upside, Devimco is taking on board advice from designers that affordable housing should be spread throughout the neighborhood, rather than concentrated in a single block or street.

Mr. Goulet mentioned that the initial target market is “empty nesters” who want to downsize and move back to the city, participate in cultural activities, and/or maintain a pied-à-terre in Montreal while they travel elsewhere. To some extent, this may be seen as reversing previous sprawl trends, or at least preserving outer suburbs at the same size they are now, as our population remains relatively stable.

The project aims to reintegrate the city with the Lachine Canal. The existing bike path will not only be preserved, but possibly also enhanced with canal-side terrasses and cafés. South of Wellington, a pedestrian-only area will link De La Montagne to the Peel Basin with a wide passageway under the elevated railway tracks; this will also lead to the proposed concert hall / hotel and then to Rue de la Commune and Old Montreal.

The aerial view, much derided in comments and the press, is likely just a placeholder image intended to show approximate building heights and massing. That means that the final architectural style of specific buildings is not yet confirmed, nor have we seen proper “street-level” renderings yet. The phrase “the final result won’t be copied and pasted like this” was overheard, which raises hopes for better-looking buildings. Furthermore, the residential condos at the west end of the project are to be designed and built by partner companies sometime in the next 10 years, so those are definitely just placeholder images for now.

One of our biggest concerns was how the two large commercial-retail “superblocks” would face the streets around them – would they be facing residential areas with blank walls, ventilation exhausts and loading docks? Mr. Goulet answered directly: No, the intent is to have living street walls lined with shops on all four sides, along with separate lobby entrances for each superblock’s four towers and for the larger-surface retailers. Deliveries, as well as parking, is to be entirely underground.

Mixed-Use and Retail Area with Street-Facing Shops and Arcades

Similarly, the interior retail spaces are to be designed after the example of successful pedestrian shopping arcades as seen in London, Melbourne and other cities. Specifically, Mr. Goulet referred to Old Montreal’s Centre de Commerce Mondial and its internal Ruelle des Fortifications as an example. Where the retail superblocks build over existing streets, the north-south axes will be preserved as arcades, intersecting with new east-west paths. It will definitely not be a standard shopping mall maze, and to some extent this preserves the old street grid, though there are issues about the privatization of public space to address here.

Mr. Goulet confirmed: there will definitely not be a Wal-Mart, nor a Canadian Tire. They couldn’t give details on who the “large surface” tenants will be, but they suggested they would be more in the vein of department stores and outlets. Architecturally, these tenants will have a street entrance but will be located inside and above the pedestrian arcades described previously.

A new street, running parallel just south of Wellington, is designated as a “lifestyle / night life” district and will probably house more pedestrian-level retail, restaurants and bars as well as two hotels. As was brought up in discussion, the multiplex cinema, being primarily a nighttime destination, may be moved elsewhere on the site.

A proposed tramway is expected to be built running north-south down Peel street from Sainte-Catherine, passing next to the Central Station towards the Canal, then along the waterfront and north towards Berri-UQAM metro. This is to satisfy the city’s criteria for alternative & green transportation, but this would only be partially funded by Devimco. While news reports have stated that Devimco wants a “sexy” tramway or nothing, they seemed more open to other solutions, mentioning electric trolleybuses for one.

The entire project is to be built in phases, breaking ground in 2009 and designed to be completed by 2019. The reason for doing it in phases is largely traffic-related, as the city cannot simply shut down major axes like Peel, de la Montagne and Wellington for years – at most they intend to have streets half-closed for a few months when necessary.

The first phase, in the lot containing the City Gas Company heritage building, will contain a mixed-use building with offices and affordable housing, a small plaza, and another affordable-housing unit at the south end. The City Gas building is slated for re-use, possibly for retail. Mr. Goulet said that this way, the project would get affordable housing units in right at the beginning as opposed to tacked on at the end. A further three affordable-housing buildings will likely be on the same triangular lot as the existing heritage townhouses on Mountain; in total, 400 affordable units will be included.

View looking south on proposed first lot of project, including City Gas building and new residential tower

When it was brought up that these proposed first buildings are right next to the train tracks – Mr Goulet pointed out that VIA trains run at very low speed along this stretch, and that residential units would start considerably higher-up than track level. (I once worked in the former Artex building which is next to the railway; we could barely feel or hear the trains, which weren’t more than a few times a day, anyway; I expect a more modern building would have better sound and vibration insulation.)

As has been previously disclosed, 12 heritage buildings will be preserved: the four facing Saint-Ann’s Park will remain untouched. Four buildings on Wellington will be demolished and reconstructed using the same material, and two other buildings will be moved.

Other issues that were raised include the accessibility for senior citizens and maximum building heights are still debated: The former were taken onboard as comments; as for the latter, Devimco is insisting that they have clearance for all taller buildings.

Given the neighborhood’s large number of artists and musicians in studios and live/work lofts who will be displaced, some mention was made about including replacements at market rates, possibly as part of the concert hall complex or elsewhere; the idea was further extended to “small business incubators,” possibly in concert with the ETS, and co-working spaces similar to Station C.

Environmental concerns were addressed in two ways; one, the two large commercial buildings are slated to have green roofs, and all construction is aimed at meeting Canadian Green Building Council LEED certification, although it’s unclear which rating system, or systems, they intend to apply here. There was also a strong indication that they would be working closely with the ETS in terms of innovation here.

Coordination with other projects was also a concern: this project will run simultaneously with the proposed demolition and redevelopment of the Bonaventure Expressway / University Street, and the development of the Canada Post site (slated to become a neighborhood of affordable housing built by a nonprofit development company). In theory, a huge, contiguous swath of land may be under construction for a very long time. Mr. Goulet promised that his company would definitely be coordinating to harmonize their efforts with others’.

Finally, the question was raised — in a city that has seen its share of Overdale-style real estate boondoggles — how do we know there will be funding to complete the entire project, and what happens if the political will changes (provincial or municipal)? Mr. Goulet replied that all of the financing for construction was completely private, and therefore immune to such changes, and that once the path was approved, they were committed to completing all phases of construction. (A good point raised by a reader at Stillepost was that the city ought not to issue demolition permits until right before construction was to begin, but the practicality of that remains to be seen.)

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Thoughts from Project Griffintown Public Meeting by steph
January 24, 2008, 1:31 pm
Filed under: consultations, Devimco, ETS, griffintown | Tags: , , ,

By Stephanie Troeth

Around 100 people attended the Projet Griffintown public meeting with developers Devimco and their associates yesterday evening at the École de technologie supérieure – appropriately, just at the edge of the area in question.

This supposedly-public meeting was not very well advertised beforehand; we were only present by the effort of community organizers who’ve been meeting with citizen groups, our network of blogs, through email and word-of-mouth. The developers admitted this was their first experience with public consultation; it seems they didn’t quite grasp that a good old traditional public forum is a responsibility to citizens, not a favour. We weren’t quite sure what to expect, and to be honest, we were skeptical: How much more could Devimco tell us, that wasn’t buried under corporate NDA?

What was entirely refreshing about the public meeting was…the public itself. The meeting attendees came armed with information, perspective, insight and concerns. Comprising architects, artists and artisans, educators, community organizers, anti-poverty advocates, residents of Griffintown and its periphery, the audience was intelligent and relentless in demanding answers from Devimco.

We were heartened by the questions everyone asked: Why are there no schools? What about recreational space for families? Are the height of these buildings legal? What about the streetscape? Can we expect a diversity of commerce and business development?

Noisy, heavy trucks already diminish the quality of life on Notre-Dame; would this mega-project make it worse? Would there be coordination with the adjacent housing plan for the former Canada Post facility? What’s the percentage of affordable housing? This quartier is home to dozens of active artists – why weren’t they consulted, and where would they go? What context will be given to heritage buildings? How do we know this isn’t going to be another Dix30 shopping mall?

A major point of concern was the fact that Project Griffintown is going to take 10 years – long enough for market crashes, investor pullouts, and political issues to potentially scuttle the project or leave it half-built. We were assured that the investment was completely private, thereby protecting it from market flux. (There wasn’t time to ask: can we truly be assured of this when the United States is currently suffering from a housing crisis?)

The answers from Devimco and the meeting facilitators were generally positive. We see hope, a promise of true urban renewal that gives reasonable consideration to good street design and city life, with due diligence given to cultural and architectural heritage. Yet, the public left with a niggling sense of unease. This is one very fragile project that needs to be nurtured and cultivated with utmost care. Despite all the “right things one must do” (or in the tone of Devimco’s stance, “what the city told us to do”), we worry that the developers don’t understand the spirit of Griffintown, and that sincerity and soul must go into rebuilding this once vibrant neighbourhood. That it’s not the bricks and mortar and layout proportions that make a successful quartier, but an understanding that it is a legacy for generations of Montrealers to come.

Public consultation at ETS tomorrow at 5:30pm by ajkandy
January 22, 2008, 12:55 am
Filed under: consultations, Devimco, ETS, Events, griffintown

A public consultation organized by RESO, the Regroupement économique et social du Sud-Ouest, and assisted by the Centre de consultation et de concertation, is being held Wednesday, January 23rd from 5:30 – 9:00 pm at the École de technologie supérieure, Amphithéâtre A-1150, 1100 Notre-Dame Ouest. (map)

There will be four discussion workshops:

  • Workshop 1: culture, heritage, tourism/recreation, design and architecture;
  • Workshop 2: employment and business opportunities;
  • Workshop 3: transportation and traffic;
  • Workshop 4: living spaces, urban space planning, public spaces and neighborhood services

We’ll be there covering as many workshops as we can.

To participate, indicate your choice of workshop and get in touch with Rachel Desrochers at 514-606-5884, or email her at Places are limited, so get in while the getting’s good.

Links for Thursday: Heritage council report, Gazette, La Presse by ajkandy
January 10, 2008, 3:42 pm
Filed under: agencies, Devimco, griffintown, media

The Conseil du Patrimoine report says thumbs down on Village Griffintown (at the Gazette)

The Gazette’s Henry Aubin writes in op-ed: What’s that giant sucking sound?

La Presse’s Martin Croteau: «Village Griffintown»: le promoteur s’étonne des critiques

Thanks to Judith Gobeil for the news roundup.

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City agencies claim Village Griffintown “could jeopardize World Heritage City status” by ajkandy
January 9, 2008, 2:08 pm
Filed under: agencies, developers, Devimco, griffintown, media, Uncategorized

Two city agencies have come down harshly on the current Village Griffintown project, as it proposes to demolish or alter several listed heritage buildings, and because the project was never submitted for a proper series of public consultations, as is required by the City code. The modifications to the area proposed by Devimco “puts Montreal’s status as a UNESCO World Heritage site” at risk, says a memo obtained by La Presse.

The agencies’ misgivings were submitted to the project committee before Christmas, but were never made public. The head of Montreal 2025 and a member of the city’s Executive Committee, Alan deSousa, says that all of their input was incorporated into a modified plan that reduced commercial space, but says “there’s no question of bringing this to the OCPM (Office des consultations publiques de Montréal).” Instead, the Sud-Ouest borough will be holding hearings at its public meetings, under the Programme particulier d’urbanisme banner.

Full article here at La Presse.

Speaking personally, I find the lack of a truly transparent public consultation process to be a sign that the city doesn’t intend to listen to its citizens. The local-borough meeting process is really less than informative: you have to email someone to get them to add you to a mailing list (nope, no web-based signup links or anything).

The list periodically sends you a Word document (!) which lists upcoming meeting topics, most of which are written in appalling bureaucratese and which often make reference to case numbers instead of the name of the project. So far I don’t think they’ve done any meetings on Village Griffintown, but they’re supposed to have at least a few before April — when I get the information I’ll repost it here.

Register by 5pm for the URBA conference at ETS, presentation by Devimco’s Serge Goulet by ajkandy
January 9, 2008, 1:50 pm
Filed under: Devimco, ETS, Events, griffintown, Uncategorized

File this one under out-of-the-loop, but I have only now heard that there’s an urbanism conference happening today at the Ecole de Technologie Superieure (corner of Peel and Notre-Dame), where Devimco president Serge Goulet will be presenting information about the Village Griffintown project. Attendance is so high they’ve had to move it into a larger auditorium. The presentation starts at 5:30pm and if you’re interested, you need to get down to the ETS and register before 5pm.

Apparently the Centre de concertation already had a discussion group at the school yesterday (Tuesday January 8th); it seems that the ETS is getting a Devimco-funded chair in sustainable development out of the deal, plus the opportunity to use the project as a “living laboratory” for new building technologies and sustainability practices.

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